Strong families and what they need
If you create a secure world for your children, family life tends to be a bit easier. Strong families that work well together tend to have a few things in common. They are:
- positive time together
- love and warmth - show your child how much you love them. Give them lots of praise, be positive and try not to say negative things. And be realistic about what they can and can’t do. For example, you can’t expect a one-year-old to eat without making a mess, or a two-year-old to sit still for a long time
- good communication - talk to your child as much as you can in simple language they can understand, and listen to what they say to you. Sometimes showing them pictures helps them understand what you want them to do too
- guidance and understanding - when you tell your children how their behaviour affects other people, you help them to become responsible and caring. Be clear about what you want your child to do or not do, and give the reason why
- consistency in parenting and in consequences for actions
- security and structure (routines)
- limits and boundaries - make sure your rules are fair and suit your child’s age. Have as few rules as you can, and stick to them.
Read more about effective discipline and parenting
Good communication in families
The quality of communication has a huge impact on the quality of family life – communication between parents, between children, and between parents and children.
Children start communicating with you as soon as they’re born. A newborn’s cry is their main way of communicating, telling you they have a need they need you to meet. As they get older, your baby will use other non-verbal cues to tell you what they need or want – for example, pointing at the water cup if they’re thirsty. Eventually they’ll start using more and more words to let you know what they’re after. How you interpret their language and respond to them makes them feel safe and secure in their environment, and lays the foundation for their future communication with you. Responding to your child’s cues makes them feel secure, too.
As your children get older, the ability for you all to freely express feelings to each other – joy, excitement, sadness, frustration, anger – will help you be able to better deal with issues when they arise. If you know what the problem is, you can work on it together or support your child to work it out for themselves.
- good listening means listening to understand, not just to respond
- behaviour comes from feelings – talk to your children about what’s happened in their day that might have upset them
- to help your child know you’re really listening, get down to their level, look at their face, and pay attention while they communicate with you.
Consistency in parenting and in consequences
Working together as a team makes family life much easier, and it helps your children know what to expect in their daily life.
Before you need to, have conversations about issues like these with your partner:
- talk about what each of your parenting styles might be – are you likely to be the rock (authoritarian), the tree (authoritative), or the paper (permissive). Your parenting style will be shaped by how you were raised, and whether you want to parent in the same way. Agreeing to be united and consistent in your approach to situations will make your children feel safe and secure, and will help things run more smoothly
- discuss how you’ll discipline your children – for example, will you use time out (where a child is sent away somewhere to cool down for a certain number of minutes) or time in (when you sit with your child as they cool down and tell you what they’re feeling)
- what you will expect from your children – for example, will you expect them to have nice manners? If so, what are nice manners, and how will you teach them to your children?
- what other family rules might there be?
- who does what in daily life – for example, washing, washing dishes, gardening, putting out the rubbish?
Children need to learn words and actions should match, so it’s important you don’t tell them one thing and then do another yourself. Both parents should try to respond in the same way to your child’s behaviour each time. If your child does something wrong, make sure you respond in a respectful and reasonable way, so the consequences suit what they did.
Thinking about things like this early on will help things run more smoothly later.
Security and structure (family routines)
To feel safe, children need to know what to expect. Having some routine in each day helps your child feel secure.
Forget about routine when you have a newborn – it’s probably not possible. The washing and dishes may pile up (unless your partner has a solid routine or you have other help), and that’s okay – as long as your newborn is feeding and sleeping when they need to, and you’re getting as much rest as you can – that’s all that matters.
But once your child is a bit older, routines are great for the smooth running of a family. They let everyone know who should do what, when, in what order, and how often.
A good bedtime routine can help your new baby adjust to the day-night cycle, and it can help your older children get to sleep too. You might also have routines for:
- work and preschool/kindy mornings
- bath time
- meal times
- morning goodbyes
- washing and cleaning routines each week.
For children, routines:
- help them feel safe and secure - a predictable and organised home environment can help them deal with times that are stressful or hard
- can strengthen family relationships, especially if they’re built around spending time together – for example, a bedtime story
- help children develop a sense of responsibility
- help them develop other skills they can use for life, like basic time management
- help them feel more independent
- can help teach them healthy habits, like washing their hands after going to the toilet, or brushing their teeth
- help set their body clocks, teaching their bodies when it’s time to sleep, and time to wake up.
For parents, routines can:
- help you get through what you need to do
- help keep your kids settled
- help you feel more organised and in control
- help prevent arguments - if everyone knows Friday night is pizza night, and every Sunday is screen-free Sunday, there are less arguments.
Limits, boundaries and family rules
Rules are guidelines for how your family wants to look after and treat its members, and they vary between households according to what’s important to them. Most children can understand simple rules by three to four years old, but they may forget or ignore them.
Rules help children learn what behaviour is and isn’t okay in your family – for example, ‘We say ‘please’ when we would like something,’ and ‘In our family we only do gentle touching’, – and they help adults be consistent in the way they respond to and treat their children.
With family rules:
- let your children know, in words they can understand, what behaviour you expect from them – for example, ‘We say thank you when someone gives us something’
- make sure they’re easy for children to understand and remember, although they may need to be reminded a few times
- they should tell children what they should do, rather than what they shouldn’t do – for example, ‘Put your clothes in the laundry basket’ rather than a more general ‘Don’t leave clothes on the floor'.
Make rules for things that are most important to you, like:
- hygiene – for example, ‘wash your hands before dinner’
- safety – for example ‘always wear your seatbelt in the car’
- manners – for example ‘always say please and thank you’
- sharing household chores – for example ‘pick up your socks and put them in the laundry basket’
- physical behaviour – for example ‘be gentle with each other’
- respect – for example ‘be kind to each other’.
Remember young children might forget or ignore the rules sometimes, and you can’t rely on them to remember the rules around keeping themselves safe, for example. You’ll still need to make sure they don’t run out into the road, even if it’s a family rule to stay safe around roads.
Read more about rules and consequences